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For Parents, Baby Formula Is More Than Food. It's a Lifeline

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When I finally gave up on what had been both a herculean and a Sisyphean effort to breastfeed, resigning my lanolin and breast pump to mere props in my nightmares, I wanted to know more about alternatives to breastfeeding.

I asked my dad, who grew up in the mountains of Greece with no electricity and no weekly pediatrician visits, what did village women who couldn't breastfeed do?

I'd heard from innumerable breastfeeding evangelists how natural it is, how any woman can do it, how you can even breastfeed if you didn't give birth (if you only try hard enough and take enough medication). But after having been through it, seeing my children scream in pain after drinking my breast milk and never get enough to fill their tiny bellies, I knew that as far back as humanity has gone, there would have been others like me.

What did they do?

"Oh, yes," my dad said, as if pulling up a memory he hadn't accessed in decades. "The women used to boil rice in goat's milk, then strain it."

If those uneducated women, like my grandmother, who never completed the fourth grade, knew that recipe, then of course they knew the necessity for it. They must have known that sometimes breastfeeding couldn't work, or wouldn't be best for mother or child.

 

As ignorant as they were, they knew more than some of us, who still claim that there is no insurmountable barrier to breastfeeding.

And as an infant formula shortage empties store shelves, and parents struggle to feed their children, there's been far too much gloating about how this might push women back toward breastfeeding and away from formula.

For my part, I struggled for months with breastfeeding both of my children. The trouble with my first son began almost immediately.

I quickly was told to start something called "triple feeding," a hellish process in which the mother breastfeeds, then bottle feeds, then uses a breast pump. Sometimes the second category of bottle feeding was broken up into two parts: pumped breast milk and formula supplementation.

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